Monday, November 14, 2011

The lamentations of "Should" and "Supposed-to"

One bright and sunny morning, Should and Supposed-to were walking the rocky stretch from the outskirts of town to the city center.  The morning sun was just creeping over the hilltops, and the dew was still fresh on the summer grasses.

As the friends walked, Should let out a long, vocal yawn.  Supposed-to turned to his friend, concerned.

"My friend," he said, "you seem tired.  Did you get enough sleep last night?" 

Should rubbed his eyes and pinched the thin spot between them, at the top of his nose. 

"I slept only a few hours last night," he replied.  "My horse stalls needed cleaning, and I knew I Should take care of that before turning in.  When my alarm sounded this morning, I thought perhaps I could sleep another hour or so, but I knew I Should rise and do my morning exercises, so I did." 

Supposed-to nodded for he understood Should's position.  He too had gotten little sleep as he had repainted his barn door by moonlight as he was Supposed-to.  He stifled a yawn of his own.

The two friends quickened their pace so that they could arrive at the city center by noon as they were Supposed-to,. Their afternoon scheduled left little room for dilly-dallying.  About half an hour into their journey, the friends passed a clear, blue pond by the side of the road.  The water looked refreshing, and there were young people and children diving in and splashing about, clothes and all.  The day had grown warm, and Should looked longingly at the water. 

He turned to look at Supposed-to, whose eyes were fixed firmly on the road ahead. 

"Could we?" he asked.

Supposed-to glanced sternly in his direction. 

"Most certainly not, Should.  After all, we are not Supposed-to jump into water, however clear it maybe be, with our clothing on.  We'll catch our death from the dampness, and we'll certainly be late in arriving at the city center."

Should nodded.  He understood the point Supposed-to was making.  They most certainly Should Not visit the pond.  There would be other days for swimming, when proper arrangements could be made. 

An hour or so later, the friends came upon a fruit stand where men and women were selecting items from a variety of bins.  There were apples, grapes, bananas, papyas, pears, plums and the most delicious looking peaches Supposed-to had ever seen!  The men and women were taking big bites of their purchases just after paying for them.  Their delight was clear upon their faces.  Supposed-to looked at Should who shook his head with reproach.

"No, Supposed-to," he said, understanding his friend's intention from the look on his face, "we most certainly Should Not taste fruit directly out of the bins as these people are doing.  We will undoubtedly end up with a stomach bug or parasite.  One Should Never taste fruit without first properly washing it, no matter how reliable the vendor, or how clean the fruit appears.  We Should press on."

Supposed-to was saddened but shook his head in agreement, nonetheless. 

Another hour passed and the friends encountered a field full of wildflowers of all shapes and colors.  Townsfolk danced amongst the flowers, gathering together rainbow bouquets, singing to themselves all the while.  Should was drawn to the field, and found himself unconsciously drifting in that direction.  He was stopped by Supposed-to's arm which extended out in front of him, holding him to his course.  Supposed-to shook his head.

"No, my friend," he said, "we are not supposed to pick wildflowers.  They could be poisonous to our skin, causing us to itch.  Also, we do not know to whom this field belongs.  Perhaps we would be run off the property by an angry farmer or a dog turned-loose to chase us away.  No, Should....we Should Not visit that field of wildflowers today."

Should was saddened, but nodded his agreement, and the friends pressed on.  They arrived in the city center promptly at noon as they had planned.  They purchased only the items they had planned to purchase, dined where they had previously decided to dine, and left the center promptly at 3 p.m. for their return trip to the outskirts of town.

About twenty minutes into their return trip, a small band of dark clouds blew over the friends' path.  A heavy rain shower took them by surprise, and they dashed under a tree to seek shelter.  Just beyond the tree was the field full of flowers, now being beaten down by the strong storm. 

"If we were to be drenched anyway, I would have like to have taken a dip in that clear, blue pond we passed," thought Should.  He drew his wet shirt closer around him for warmth.  The storm did not let up for some time, and Supposed-to felt his stomach begin to rumble.

"If we were to be delayed for such a time as this, I would surely have liked to have had some of that delightful fruit to snack on.  Or perhaps I would not be hungry now if I had tasted some earlier."  He rubbed his stomach, willing the ache to subside.

When the storm let up, the friends took to the road once again.  When they arrived at their respective homes, they were both exhausted and chilled through.  Should looked out at his garden which he knew he Should set about pruning, but his muscles ached, and his head felt feverish.  Supposed-to visited his cows which he was Supposed-to milk that evening, but his stomach was feeling quite rumbly, and his eyes were crossing from fatigue.

Still, Should and Supposed-to took care of their chores.  They were certainly not going to put off the responsibilities they were Supposed-to perform, nor Should they rest when there was work to be done.

When the light had faded, Should and Supposed-to retired to their beds.  The next morning's sun greeted two very ill individuals.  Should woke with a terrible cold, and Supposed-to was taken with a terrible case of food-poisoning, contracted from the dining establishment he had visited the day before. 

Both friends looked out at the sparkling new day wishing for a second chance at the previous day's events. 

Perhaps, if we had taken an hour to go for a swim, our clothes would have dried over the course of the sunny morning, and we would have delayed in the city center long enough to miss the rainstorm.  Or, perhaps if we had stopped for some fruit, we might have ordered differently at the restaurant, and one of us might not have ended up with tummy trouble.  Or, perhaps if we had taken a moment to pick wildflowers, we might at least have lovely bouquets to comfort us in or beds as we convalesce.  And, had we taken ourselves straight into hot showers and early bedtimes instead of performing chores which could have waited until today, we might not feel quite so terrible this morning.

Should and Supposed-to learned that morning that often, Should and Supposed-to lead to Must and Must Not...if one is very ill, one Must certainly remain in bed.  One Must Not visit one's friends.  One Must not take on difficult chores.

Perhaps now and again Should and Supposed-to might be better replaced with Can, Will and Want to.  After all, if the result Might be the same anyway, one Might As Well take a dip, have some fruit and pick some flowers from time to time.  We Should all shirk Should and Supposed-to once in a while, Should we not?   

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

To all the "No's" I've "Yes-ed" before....

A couple of weeks ago, I interviewed Sherri Shepherd, one of the hosts on "The View", and the woman behind the force that is "Angie" on "30 Rock".  I'm always happy to interview a celebrity, but I certainly didn't expect to take away the profound message Sherri had to offer that fact, I thought I was meant to be talking to her about toothbrushes.  (we did that, but the discussion was brief - in short, electric is better)

Amidst our discussion about her life, her child, her work and her goals, we addressed one of the most important themes young women, and ambitious people in general, seem to overlook in life...until it is too late.  Sherri told me that the secret to balance in her very hectic life has been embracing the word "no".  Considering the variety in her professional life, I had expected her to say the very opposite - that the secret to life fulfillment comes from frequent and even reckless use of the word "yes"! 

I expressed as much to Sherri, and she shook her head sympathetically.  She told me that her relationship with the word "no" had developed over time and that she hadn't always been so keen to use it - much like myself.  But, with prioritizing, comes the necessity for reclamation of one's self, and as we get older and take on more and more and more....we begin to come to terms with the fact that "yes" could be the death of us while "no" could literally save us from being crushed by the world's demands. 

When I was in the 8th grade, my best friend, Amy, and I developed a whole new alphabet which we used to write and pass notes in Senora Stout's Spanish class.  I remember well one day conveying to Amy via a variety of combined symbols that I was feeling a bit taken advantage of by a friend who was struggling in another class.  We had a group project, and I had finally begun to understand that her constant requests for help were really translating to me doing all the work and her watching me, filing her nails and talking on the phone to boys.  The situation had me frustrated and depressed. 

In code, Amy offered up the following nugget of wisdom which has haunted me every since.  "Holley," she said in smiley faces, dots, squiggles and squares, "you are a people-pleaser.  I know that because I'm one too.  And, it isn't a good thing."  At the bottom of her response, she drew a little person with long hair and converse tennis shoes (my tiny likeness) holding hands with a curly-haired figure in khakis (her), both of them looking up at a giant stop sign which read "Stop Pleasing People!"  I kept that note for a very long time, and when I felt like I was being manipulated, I would look at it, sigh, and usually, do whatever was being asked of me anyway...just in full knowledge that I was the only one to blame for my exhaustion and/or disappointment.

As I progressed through college and into the working world, I began to think that maybe Amy had been wrong - that maybe being a people-pleaser was the way to advance in life.  I mean, after all, when you are very helpful, people like you, right?  And, they respect you for your efforts?  And, they ask you to do more things and more things and.....wait a gosh-darn second....  The previous revelation took thirty-one years to manifest.  Despite Amy's foreshadowing, I allowed my life to become a piece-meal mosaic of constant attention to the needs and wants of other people.  Shoot, I thought I was helping myself in the process, and maybe I was to some extent.  I have certainly developed a wide variety of skills as a result, but there has always been a tiny little piece of me...perhaps that little drawing staring up at that giant stop sign....crying out from the recesses of my brain that what I am giving up might be more valuable than what I'm gaining. 

A few nights ago, I watched an incredible documentary about Bill Cunningham, the 82 year-old New York Times photographer who gathers snapshots of people on the streets of New York, then dissects them into sub-sections that represent fashion trends as perceived by the everyday guy or gal.  You can find his pictorial in the Sunday edition and online.  There's even a groovy little narration that he does himself, over an animation of his work.  It's pretty fabulous. 

Anyway, the point of this story is that this documentary has been reviewed farily consistently as a sweet little film about a man who loves what he does more than anything else in the world and has given up much of what we all value in life to pursue it.  Okay - I'll buy that Bill Cunningham loves his job.  It is more than a little bit obvious that he not only has a keen eye for fashion but a genuine joy over observing how modern women and men pick and choose they ways in which they will bring the catwalks to the alley ways.  The key word here is "observing".  Bill Cunningham has spent his entire eighty-two years...watching.  Only recently did Mr. Cunningham leave his tiny room in Carnegie Hall where he has lived for the better part of his life, to become a resident in a real apartment complex, with a bathroom that isn't in a public hall way.  He eats as inexpensively as possible...wears the same blue jacket day in and day out...and still shoots on bonified film.  He is well-known by celebrated designers and fashion icons.  He has received awards for his contributions to fashion from the highest ranks of the industry...awards he has accepted in his blue jacket.  He spent a little time in the forties designing hats, but when the United States Military called, he shifted his course and never returned to his original calling.

If a viewer were to watch only the first three-quarters of the Bill Cunningham documentary, he or she would likely derive the same conclusion mentioned earlier: cute movie; this guy likes his job.  But, when the interviewer actually musters up the courage to ask Bill a series of difficult questions regarding his romantic life and his take on religion, the truth creeps out like a fine eau de parfum several hours after its original spritz. 

Bill Cunningham let "pleasing" take over his life.  He found a way to derive joy from the industry in which he should have been a participant rather than a mere historian, where with his eye...his appreciation for all things beautiful...and his genuine euphoria over the principle of human expression through fashion...Bill Cunningham might have been iconic as a creator.  Instead, the oppression of a family who never understood him and a society that dictated his lifestyle choices, boxed up his exuberance and hid it behind a lens and a shutter. 

I laid in bed after my brief encounter with Mr. Cunningham by way of my Netflix account and thought about how this incredible man's life might have been different if he had also been able to embrace the word "no". 

No - I will not be bullied by my family's assessment of my chosen field.
No - I will not abandon my dreams in favor of someone else's vision.
No - I will not hide myself away behind the fabulousness of others.
No - I will not concede my place in this world based on the restrictions handed to me by a cold and closed-minded generation. 
No - I won't let anyone else tell me who I should or should not love.

I have no doubt that Bill Cunningham has found contentment through his work.  If we all loved our professions as much, the word "mediocrity" would not even exist.  But, my gracious, the potential that is stored up in his apartment full of file cabinets....the inspiration that he could have used to buoy up his own designs...there could have been much more for him, but like so many of us, he did not see fit to claim himself for himself.  And, maybe....just maybe....Mr. Cunningham might have been willing to give up some of his professional acclaim to have a true, honest love affair, had the notion pleased his family and society in general.  My heart aches for his dedication to the expectations of those for whom he cared - maybe too much.

Perhaps not all of our "no's" need to be quite so grand as Bill's might have been.  Maybe a "no" is simply issued in response to a perceived obligation which will diminish time with family or friends.  Maybe tomorrow's "no" will be in reference to what might seem like an opportunity....but under the light of serious scrutiny, reveals itself as a manipulation.  Maybe next week's "no" really will be the passing over of an opportunity for another one...or simply...for rest.  Sometimes we issue a "no" to someone we barely know...sometimes we have to say "no" to the people we love the most.  One way or another, a "no" to someone else can quite often mean a "yes" to ourselves, and, while a people-pleaser like myself might find that selfish at first glance, the truth is - it can be the difference between survival and happiness. 

So once said the wisest twelve year-old I've ever encountered.  Amy, wherever you are these days, I hope you are "no-ing" up a storm and living an uproariously happy life.  Living...not just watching.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Lightning Crashes....

For those of you who read my very first blog post on this site, you are already aware that I am prone to....spontaneous adventure.  From illegally scaling the rocky cliffs of the Turks and Caicos (and subsequently battling a small shark...) to launching myself into a ropes course carrying a $10,000 camera, I don't exactly repel excitement.  Often times, my "electric" experiences come from within the minutia of my everyday this week's case, walking across the parking lot to my car at the end of a work day.

If you live in the Tampa Bay area, then you know that, up until today, things have been rather...damp.  Even now, the atmosphere is heavy with humidity which I am told should be remedied by Saturday morning.  (fingers triple crossed!)  Monday was especially rainy, with storms that offered up tropical storm force winds and lightning which, if harnassed, could have likely powered all of St. Petersburg for a month.  Maybe more.

As luck would have it, said storm rolled in just about the time I was about to leave the station and make my way across town to Ybor City for my weekly film screening.  I stood in the hallway outside my office until I believed the torrential downpour was lessening, then ran across the building only to find the deluge kicking back up just as I was looking to exit.  I waited again...this time for only a few minutes before I decided it was better to just toughen up and brave it then to sit idly waiting.  Having left all three of my umbrellas in my car, I approached my husband who works on the other side of the building about borrowing an umbrella.  He had made the same mistake I had that morning, yielding zero umbrellas indoors....and four of them out. 

Luckily, a friendly colleague offered to loan us hers, but the issue arose of her needing it back later on in the evening.  So, my husband decided that it would be very romantic to walk me out to my car then return with the umbrella...problem solved, and quality time together spent. 

As we stepped outside, the liquid assault intensified, and lightning flashes could be seen no more than a couple of miles off to the north.  We clung together and headed for my car as quickly as my heeled feet would allow given the parking lot's slippery conditions.  Our backs were being thoroughly saturated, but until we had only about 3 feet left to go, that was our only real issue.  We were sure we were home free.  Then, Zeus clearly became displeased with our efforts to traverse his maddening storm because he sent a lightning bolt in our directions that nearly knocked us to the ground.  It couldn't have hit more than 10 or 12 feet away. 

I screamed.  My husband ducked.  My head became exposed, and my husband, in a flurry of panic, closed the umbrella and took off running for the building.  I don't blame him one bit - but there I stood, becoming more and more drenched as I endeavored to shove my giant work bag into my car.  The thunder that followed the lightning strike was so loud, I could feel it inside my body, and I was shaking wildly, making the use of my key fob much more difficult that it should have been. 

When I finally managed to climb into the driver's seat, I took a few moments to breathe.  Rivulets of rainwater flowed from my hairline, down my face to my chin, and dripped all over my dress.  I was a mess.  But, I was alive.  However, my body felt rather....unusual.  I became keenly aware of my skin - it was like I could feel it just...being skin.  I have no idea how to better explain that.  To say it tingled would be an extreme understatement.  It was just so....THERE.  And, my insides were turning like a front-loading washing machine.  I was beginning to get nauseous, but I knew I needed to get on the road, so I pulled out of the parking lot to begin my journey. 

I made it about a quarter of a mile before an intense sleepiness overtook me.  I felt drugged - like I'd taken a muscle relaxer that was just kicking in.  I was sure I was going to fall asleep at the wheel...and in a monsoon, no less!  I pulled into the Goodwill parking lot thinking that maybe I could walk around the store for a few minutes until my senses returned and I regained some vitality, but the lightning was coming even more frequently.  I didn't dare make a run for it. 

I turned off the engine, laid my seat back and set my phone on the seat next to me.  I toyed with pre-dialing 911 just in case I lost some of my motor function (that's how weird I felt), but I have heard horror stories about people doing that and the police showing up before the phone call was even actually made, so I decided I would just scream bloody murder if I suddenly lost feeling in my arms and legs.  In the moment, that seemed entirely plausible.

The next thing I knew, fifteen minutes had passed.  I don't remember falling asleep.  I don't remember falling over so that my arm rested under my forehead which was now parallel with my center console.  I don't remember knocking my cell phone into the passenger's side floorboard.  I must have passed out - it's the only thing I can think of.  And, I didn't even get to have any tequila...what a waste.

Upon regaining my composure, having woken with a real lack of clarity as to why I was in the Goodwill parking lot, I resumed my journey to the Ybor movie theater.  I stopped at 7-11 for a diet coke and a snack, hoping that would help to curb the weird nausea.  It did, to some extend, but I never really felt right again that night. 

When I finally returned home quite late in the evening, I was a little afraid to go to sleep.  Given the evening's earlier events, I wasn't sure if it was safe!  But, eventually my desperate fatigue overtook my fear, and I dosed off, only to awake with my alarm the next morning...same old, same old.  I have never been quite so thankful to hear that horrendous, high-pitched screeching. 

I looked up "indirect lightning exposure" when I arrived at work on Tuesday morning to no real avail.  Apparently, "almost" being hit by lightning is not nearly as glamorous as actually making direct contact, so there was very little literature to help me make sense of my odd post-electrifying symptoms.  But, I do know this...I can now see through clothing, bend metal with my teeth and hover a few centimeters off the ground.*

So....I guess that's something.  ;)

*Totally untrue. 
**Have been informed that symptoms were likely due to an influx and subsequent abatement of adrenaline.  I am not superwoman.   Yet. 


Monday, September 12, 2011

Living eulogies


I used to banish the thought of it.  I believed that if I were to dwell on it, I would essentially invite it...that it could be summoned by my attention.  As a teenager, I developed strategies for eluding death's presence in my consciousness.  I became busy.  I built a fortress of activities - a wall to keep out death and its minions...those cloying "possibilities" that would surely seal my fate and condemn me to an afterlife of suffering.  Searching desperately for an ideal to cling to and something to define me, I grabbed on to religion and served constant penitence for the sins I was sure I was unknowingly committing.  I went to sleep every night terrified that I hadn't done a good enough job of repenting.  I was sure God could see deep into my soul where I wasn't really all that sorry that I kissed my boyfriend while reclining in a horizontal position, and whatever that made me feel was surely born of the devil, but....I kind of liked it.  Which made it worse.  I was afraid.  I was afraid all the time.

Over the course of the last 13 years, I have come to recognize a shift in the way I perceive death.  In some ways, it serves the same purpose it did at that other, more confusing time in my life.  Death is a great motivator - whether we see it as a reason to commit our lives to some higher power through self-sacrifice and joy in purpose, or whether we view it as the catalyst for making the appropriate decisions that will compel us to find the greatest happiness in this life, should it prove to be the only one we get.  Maybe there is even a balance between these two ideas.  One way or another, the only certainty is that death is final.  It is the end of THIS existence, whether or not there is one to follow.  Even if we live many times over, we will never be exactly THIS at exactly THIS time ever again.

This past week, a friend of mine lost her closest companion suddenly.  One moment her sweet, generous sister was alive, and the next, she wasn't.  In the appropriate timing, word began to spread of my friend's tragic loss.  I received the information during potentially the busiest week I have had in quite some time.  Work of many kinds overwhelmed me, and I began to question my relevance and to feel sorry for myself for putting forth so much effort for so little reward.  It was at the height of my anxious frenzy that I got word of the week's horrific events, and I was immediately humbled and profoundly aware of each single moment.  The world slowed.  I began to notice things - raindrops, wind gusts, birds, the way my hands felt, the way cold glasses of water sweat, how much lovelier Thai food tastes when you eat it with your best friend.

And, on that terrible night, fear left me.  When I closed my eyes that night, I let Death in.  What filled my head were a thousand eulogies - things I would say if ever I lost those dearest to me.  My response would have once been to force those thoughts into a corner and box them away, frightened that Death would catch wind of them and descend upon my loved ones.  But, on that night, and still today, I see so very clearly that all of the wonderful, heartfelt offerings we have for those we love should not be contained until they are gone.  Why is it not better to share them while they can enjoy them - benefit from them in some way?  Why do we hold back our deepest feelings for dear ones until they have left us?

And, so, I have these things to share:

Dad, you are the kindest human being I have ever known.  When I see you offer a helping hand to a stranger or say something encouraging to someone you've only just met, my heart hurts because I want so badly to be like you.  You are the perfect combination of strength and sensitivity.  You find joy in quietly, unassumingly giving of yourself.  I admire you more than you could possibly know.

Mom, you are so strong.  There is nothing you can't do, and you know that - you are brave and smart and observant.  You can turn anything and any day into something special.  You make things lovely without even trying.  You are genuine and honest, and I know that if anyone ever hurt me, you would be the first responder on the scene.  I have seen you do it.  You are determined, and you know yourself.  I hope that one day I will have your sense of assurance.

Adam, you could charm your way into an igloo carrying a space heater.  You make people smile, simply by being present.  You are a shiny, effervescent presence.  You put people at ease and turn awkward moments into comedic gold.  You are going to go so far.  I am so proud to tell people you are my brother.

Matt, you love bigger and stronger than I ever thought was possible.  Your ability to find the humor in the most frightening situations still astounds me.  You are passionate, dedicated, determined and worthy.  I prize and aspire to your nobility.  You have an enormous heart, and I hope upon hope that those closest to you understand just how much you love them - I can see it, even when you don't say it.

Kristi, you are so beautiful and so sparkly.  I look so forward to knowing you better, but for now, I am so thankful that you have embraced my family the way you have.  They are safe with you.  I know you truly love them.

To my sisters: Liz, Lisa, Sarah, Cara, Nadyne...there are no words.  I send you my love in a quiet meditation, and offer you all of the joy I have to give.  You have each changed me for the better.  Mountains of glitter to each of you.  Don't use it sparingly.

I have so very many bits and pieces to share, but as I write, I realize that I could sit at this computer for days and never complete my affirmations.  Each and every one of you deserves a book of your own.  My life has been touched by so many - the blessings I have known are more numerous than the drops of rain that fall on the concrete outside my window on these especially wet days.

My final nod for tonight, I offer to Death itself.  Thank you for showing me how important it is to share my heart while it still beats, and to pass along my gratitude and affection for the many, many beating hearts that have made me who I am, and who will continue to grow me into the person I hope to be - until you come for me.  Whether you are the end of the book or simply the last page of a chapter, you are the necessary catalyst that compels us to open up to one another.

For Dori.  Such a beautiful spirit, now present among the stars and in the innumerable sands and shells that make up the beaches she loved so much.  Be at peace.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Life lessons in dress-making....

Last week, I saw a photo of a dress that I absolutely loved on a website for a shop I can rarely afford.  (only during a massive sale)  The dress was, as expected, radically out of my price range which spurred me to make a trip to my favorite little fabric shop in St. Petersburg in an attempt to recreate my coveted piece.  Of course, the shop did not have the exact fabrics I needed to make a replica, and I honestly wasn't looking to do that anyway - I have never created anything that didn't possess my own unusual spin.  I played for an hour with different textiles, laying one lovely bolt on top of another until I came up with two options that excited me, both creatively and economically.  (Even at the fabric store, I shop the sales racks.)

I purchased the necessary portion of fabric to create both possibilities, and even with plenty of materials to make 2 dresses, I barely spent half of what I would have had I purchased the dress I loved so much from the retailer I cannot afford.  It was this very conundrum that drove me to learn how to sew in the first place.  As I neared my 30s, I realized that I was no longer satisfied with inexpensive, trendy clothing.  My tastes had become much more refined, but sadly, my pocketbook could not keep up with my fashion maturation.  Never one to be defeated by any obstacle, I asked for a sewing machine for my 27th birthday, and my mom and grandma surprised me with one along with a long weekend intended to afford a crash course in basic sewing. 

I have now been sewing for 4 years, and I no longer use patterns.  My husband bought me a dress form a couple of Christmases ago, and my stepmother in-law has provided me with almost every tool one could need to create almost anything out of any material.  I am well-stocked in threads of every color, fabrics that range from high-end silks to vintage tablecloths my mom picked up at a flea market.  (these make AMAZING vintage-inspired pieces...I like to use them for cutesy little shorts and skirts)  This past March, I made the bridesmaid dresses for one of my best friends' weddings, and every once in a while, when the mood hits me, I hide away in my sewing room (which doubles as my husband's office in our tiny house) and just create until all of my restless energy is purged and my spirit is still. 

As I crafted the first of my designer-inspired pieces this weekend, it occurred to me that the progression of my sewing hobby has sort of mirrored my life to this point.  In the beginning, the matriarchs in my life gave me all of the knowledge and skill that they had to offer in the short period that they had to guide and direct me, and then, I was on my own.  In their absence I made some serious mistakes, and even had to take a few pieces apart entirely and start all over again.  Some of my creations found themselves on top of my scrap pile, half-finished, reminding me of the frustration I suffered in my endeavor to bring them to life.  Some of my work has been made better by my missteps.  I have a one-shoulder, purple mini-dress, the sleeve of which I sewed on inside-out.  But, it looked so cool, I decided to leave it.  Earlier in the year, a panel of design experts from a state fashion institute reviewed some of my work and didn't hate it.  I was even applauded for my technique and attention to detail. 

I thought back on my journey fondly as I hand-sewed a beaded/sequin trim onto my latest work-in-progress.  I thought about what it means to grow up and how necessary mistakes really are in the tapestry of life.  Like the pieces I have had to take apart, there are habits that must be unlearned and ideologies that prove to be toxic to the individuals we will eventually become.  If we don't go back to the seams and often times, undo what has taken us a long time to craft, we will never find out who we really are.  We never move forward or grow.  And, the forsaken pieces that find themselves on the scrap pile represent the relationships and friendships we leave behind.  They are no less meaningful for having been abandoned - in fact, they might be even more so.  Had I made my very first dress perfectly, there would have been no reason to continue creating.  I would never feel the sense of pride that overtakes me when I celebrate little successes like getting my zipper perfectly straight or properly sizing a bodice on the first shot.  If I didn't know how difficult it was to install a straight zipper, I wouldn't know to be excited about doing it.  Every stitch is an opportunity to learn, whether or not the piece is ever fully finished.

Having finally mastered the basics of dress-making, I have really come into my 30s as a designer as well as in age.  I am no longer as worried about just getting from point "a" to point "b"...both my existence and my design process have become much more nuanced.  I am not concerned about attaching a skirt to a bodice or a sleeve to an arm-hole.  But, because I am not so concerned with the mechanics of sewing, I have become much more attentive to the overall presentation of a piece...the way the textiles marry together...the placement of the waistline...the fit...the straightness of the hemline.  I am a participant and an observer, and infinitely more self critical despite the progress I've made in my art.  It's funny how that happens.  The better we get at something, the more we hyper-focus on our flaws.  As it is in sewing, it is in life.  At 31, I am a much harsher judge of my place, position and contribution to the world than I ever was in my 20s. 

When I finally finished my most recent creation late last night, I redressed my work mannequin as I always do, and stepped back to observe and critique.  For the first time since I started making my own clothes, my very first response was not trepidation or nervousness about what other people would think of my work.  This time, I just felt proud.  I had executed to the very best of my ability, without cutting any corners or rushing any part of the process.  I had delighted in the journey and not hurried through the less glamorous tasks like pinning the hem and centering my pleats.  For once, I made no excuses to myself.  I let down my guard and admired the work of my own hands without worrying whether someone else might find it lacking.  Stepping back from my finished product, I was content. 

Perhaps a little long-distance perspective is the answer to self hyper-analysis in life, as well.  For those of us who fixate on the problems that arise time and again, maybe stepping back and taking in the whole picture is necessary to afford real, honest appreciation of ourselves and what we've accomplished.  I can easily find myself lacking by comparing my life to those of my peers if I take myself apart and examine only the pieces....the inside out sleeves...the slightly askew zipper.  Or...I can take two steps back and look at the incredible creation my hands have wrought as a whole, and I can be pleased.  No nitpicking.  No analysis.  No comparisons.  Just admiration.  

My dresses are a collection of stitches, pleats and inspiration.

I am a collection of experiences, ideas and choices. 

I supposed I don't just make many ways, I am one.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Holley Takes Manhattan...

I've been to New York City four times.  The first time was with my immediate family - the trip was my Christmas gift.  A dance enthusiast in my youth, I had been begging since I was only a little girl to see "The Nutcracker" at Lincoln Center, and when I was 19 years-old, we went.  It was perhaps the most magical trip of my young life.  It was cold, but not frigid.  The store windows were all decorated for the holidays.  There were Christmas trees everywhere...some real...others made of tinsel and other, more creative materials.  A dear friend was also scheduled to be in Manhattan at the same time, and his family was staying at The Waldorf Astoria.  We were not scheduled to stay there, but upon hearing this, my mother made it her mission to relocate us.  Not only did she find a deal which allowed us to change locations, but we spent our first night in NYC in a Waldorf suite.  We sipped hot chocolate, rode in a carriage and ice skated in Central Park.  We bought knock-off designer wallets from a man with a folding table on a street corner.  I was in heaven.

My second visit was a quick one.  My cousins and I were interning in Washington D.C. the summer I turned 21, and my mom flew in to take us on a whirwind, 5 states in 3 days, driving trip.  It was August.  It was HOT.  We visited Times Square and whined about the heat.  I think we went to Planet Hollywood. 

My third visit was with my husband, once again at Christmas time.  It was the coldest winter on record in NYC, and my husband stood in line at the TKTS booth in Times Square to purchase tickets to "Fela" for almost 2 hours.  It was 20 degrees at high noon.  Myself an enormous Food Network fan, we made a point to visit Chelsea Market (still one of my favorite food destinations to date) and to spend time shopping in SoHo.  We successfully navigated the subway system.  We stayed in a boutique hotel with a shared bathroom on the Upper West Side. We waited in line at Serendipity III for an hour and a half.  I slept a total of seven hours over three nights, nursing a mean case of walking pneumonia with more Aleve Cold and Sinus than my body could reasonably handle.  We spent about two and a half minutes at Filene's Basement. 

My most recent trip to NYC was the shortest, but perhaps the most interesting because I was alone.  I consider myself a brave individual, but seeing as how this was my first overnight trip ANYWHERE completely by myself, I was more than a little intimidated.  The purpose of my visit was business related.  I was scheduled to interview Anne Hathaway regarding her new film "One Day" on Monday and to attend a screening of that film Sunday evening.  The movie studio had set up the interviews at The Waldorf Astoria, which meant the press would be staying there as well - familiar surroundings put me much more at ease than I might have been at a strange hotel in an area I'd not experienced. 

I arrived in Newark at 11 a.m. Sunday and was transported to the Waldorf by a gentleman in a Mercedes named "Rafi".  He was very proud of his children - a doctor, a future lawyer a math whiz and the youngest who he claimed "had a superior intellect but simply no ambition".  By the way, City College in London costs 8,000 pounds per quarter...that is, I'm told, more expensive than Harvard.  Rafi was greatly displeased by this, but luckily, his daughter had received scholarships.  My 45 minute ride passed quickly.

I checked into my lovely and overly extravagant room at The Waldorf, made my way to press check-in (I cannot even effectively decribe to you the suite where that was located...let's just say, you could fit three of my house in it...) then proceeded down the elevator from the 29th floor to ground level and an afternoon of adventure.

I began walking north on Park Avenue with no plan in my head.  I simply went.  I wore a floral print jumper with leather sandals and my hair pulled back in a mess of curls.  I felt very stylish indeed.  The spring in my step likely gave me away as a non-native, but I was in no mood to worry about the perceptions of others.  I was doing New York with no restrictions and no agenda.  At each intersection, I looked left and right to see if there was anything I might be missing on my aimless trek northward.  About 3 blocks into my excursion, I noted a street fair happening one street East of Park, and I redirected to see what it was about.

The street fair was block after block of food trucks, clothing and accessories vendors and craftspeople.  There were purveyors of organic goods like honey and jam, and of course, the usual designer knock-off sellers whose kiosks I avoided.  Fifteen minutes and $40 later, I had a new dress and two time-piece amulets shaped like for me, and one for my friend Liz who had risen at 6:30 on a Sunday to take me to the airport.  I was jubilant.  The one thing I couldn't seem to locate was a Starbucks.  (there was one in my hotel, but I was way to excited to even notice it)

I continued through the street fair until it ended, and upon turning back toward Park Avenue, I found myself across the street from Central Park.  I wandered through the outer, free portion of the Central Park Zoo and noted all of the different languages and accents I heard along the way.  I waited in line at a food kiosk to purchase some water behind a family I believe to have been Dutch.  I walked a few paces behind a group of young women speaking French for a while, and encountered a family speaking Portuguese alongside a used book seller set up on the outskirts of the park.  For a moment, I wished I could speak every language in the world. Then, I decided it was much more fun and mysterious to interpret their conversations blindly.  You can discern quite a lot from body language and facial expressions.

I strolled past The Plaza and Tiffany's ( I may have been on 5th at this point...I am not really sure...) through Henri Bendel and H&M and eventually, back toward my hotel.  Three and a half hours had passed, and I had amassed quite a treasure trove.  I emptied my prizes on to my bed, looked them over, returned a call to my dad, then dozed off surrounded by my day's conquests.  I awoke just in time to shower, dress and catch a shuttle to my screening, which was a short 3 blocks away. 

After seeing the film (which was lovely!), I ordered room service.  This is not a common occurrence for me, but since I had been issued a credit to the hotel restaurants, I decided to indulge.  I found a movie on television, then ordered angel hair pasta with stewed tomatoes and basil, a salad and a Coors Light.  Half an hour later, I had a neatly appointed table set before me, complete with three kinds of bread, a full wine chiller for my one beer, and a pat of butter the size of a bar of soap.  I dined, ironed my dress for the following day's events and settled in for an evening's repose in a bed that could have easily fit four of me.

The following morning I rose earlier than I needed to, dressed, and located the Starbucks that had elluded me the day prior.  I composed questions for my interviewees, sipped a soy vanilla latte and tried to sedate the butterflies that had taken flight in my stomach. 

I consulted the concierge on the best/quickest/cheapest way to return to Newark (cab...that's pretty much the only option) then checked in for my appointed interview time half an hour early.  I had my new, special edition copy of "Jane Eyre" in my purse, so I commenced reading to help distract myself from what I was about to do.  Around me, reporters who frequently make celebrity interview trips conversed in animated tones, as if they hadn't seen each other in years.  A few other people sat reading the film's production notes.  An elderly gentleman on a couch opposite me had fallen asleep and was snoring.  I made one friend when I consulted the fellow next to me as to whether it was common for interviewers to fall asleep while waiting their turn.  He said it was the first time he had seen it happen. 

I waited for an hour.  I almost leapt out of my skin when the press wrangler announced that it was my turn to "head down to Anne".  If you've ever seen the film "Notting Hill", then you know basically what the set up looks like.  You are ushered down a hallway to a room where television cameras, lights and microphones have been strategically placed to accommodate reporters quickly and easily.  There are people monitoring tape decks and audio equipment.  There are other very fashionable people sitting about...chatting...looking fabulous and not really doing anything. 

I was Anne Hathaway's last interview before lunch.  She was warm and cordial....very professional.  It was clear she had been doing this for years.  She shook my hand (yes, I touched Anne Hathaway...) before and after the interview, and blushed when I told her she looked quite a lot like Audrey Hepburn when her hair was cut short in her film.  I proceeded to interview an equally charming Jim Sturgess who is best known for his role in the strange but visually stunning movie-musical "Across the Universe" featuring the songs of The Beatles. 

Having finished my interviews, I had a lovely lunch in the monster press suite, spent an hour or so traversing 5th Avenue looking for Bryant Park in a Suzy Chin tunic dress and flip-flops, then cabbed it back to Newark, nauseous with exhaustion.  I spent the next three hours before my flight with my friend, Jane Eyre, boarded a plane and found myself deposited back in Tampa just before 10.  The next as usual.

I'm not sure how often I'll be making whirlwind trips like this one...I don't know for sure when the next opportunity will present itself, but I can honestly say, I feel much more self-assured and confident in my ability to "go it alone" having now navigated the biggest and most densely populated city in the United States, all on my own.  It is, perhaps, much more fun with a companion, but there is much to be said for the uninhibited experience of making one's own rules and adhering no one else's schedule.

Now, where to next?....Paris, maybe? 


Thursday, August 4, 2011

"That is so not my momma...."

As is quite frequently the case, my co-host, Jerome, took me on a trip down memory lane today by way of a pre-show tangent.  We share a love for stream-of-consciousness discussion, and having both worked for the Home Shopping Network in some capacity, we got to chatting about which celebrities we'd met and what they were like.  I was lucky during my stint at HSN, in that most of the celebs within my sphere of influence were pretty tame, many of them downright nice.  None more so than long time Dallas Cowboys running back, Emmitt Smith.  (who could have gotten me fired, but for some reason didn't.  Although Cowboys owner Jerry Jones did kick me off an elevator.  A different story for another time...)

It was my first full football season with the Home Shopping Network where I was hired to help produce merchandising programming for the NFL.  "NFL Shop" was the name of our flagship show, and we were taking it on the road for the first big weekend of the regular season.  Our backdrop would be the field at Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Irving, Texas, not empty, but chock full of the most enormous men I had ever seen in person - the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins. 

For one full day we "pulled cable".  That is to say, we drug heavy, rubber-coated cables from a satellite truck parked outside the stadium, through never-ending underground tunnels and onto the field where they would attach to an enormous board, the hub for our small but mighty operation.  During that day, inside the un-air-conditioned home of God's chosen team, I sweated more than I ever have in my entire life (and that is in combined years, not single episodes of sweating).  I almost passed out once.  I smelled like a high school locker room.  I also laid on the 50 yard-line and looked up through God's window...the one He once used to see his boys play.  Now, He watches them on the world's biggest HD jumbo-tron housed inside a spaceship.  When that day was over, I only had enough energy reserved to devour an entire order of Taco Cabana tortillas and queso with my family before falling into bed by 9 p.m.  I've never been so tired in my entire existence, and I have completed two half-marathons.  Live, remote television is exhausting.

But it was all worth it, because I was scheduled to be the one to attach a microphone to NFL legend, Emmitt Smith. 

Two hours prior to kick-off, we were all in place.  I had struck up a friendship with the Cowboys merchandising manager (we'll call her Andrea....) and we were chatting alongside our little makeshift set.  Behind our show host, the Redskins were warming up.  The offensive line was spaced out in the end zone doing drills of some sort, and watching them, I became convinced that giants do, in fact, exist.  Granted, they were adorned in their game time padding, but still...the sheer mass of these men was overwhelming.  I felt very intimidated and incredibly tiny. 

I was handed a headset which would allow me to talk to the producer in the truck outside.  I felt very official and important.  I nodded at people a lot.  I gave my colleagues the "thumbs up" at random.  I saluted the officials as they took the field.  I waved at the fans who had flocked to the lower level in order to potentially wind up on camera.  I was like a beauty queen in a parade, but sweatier and wearing jeans that seemed to be shrinking the hotter I got.

Before I could really process everything, we were handing our host his first piece of memorabilia to sell and the countdown to the start of the show commenced.  By the date of the Cowboys shoot, I had already been working in television for four years, but the overwhelming feeling of being surrounded by the home of the legendary and revered Dallas Cowboys made me feel like a total rookie.  I was all nerves.  My hands were shaking.  I was short of breath.

But, I was focused.  I was in constant communication with our supervising producer, Gerry, hoping that an opportunity would present itself for me to shine in some capacity.  That's when a well-dressed African American couple and a woman who appeared to be their grandmother entered the field.  They were all wearing the coveted VIP passes I had seen on several equally well-adorned individuals in the bowels of the stadium en route to the field.  The elderly woman was spry...she bounced around excitedly, her escorts looking on lovingly.  She wore a Cowboys jersey that she had clearly doctored up herself.  It bore patches from Super Bowls and signatures from players.  Among them....Emmitt Smith.

Speak of the attention quickly turned from the adorable trio to the man of the hour who was being rushed toward me by a couple of large gentlemen dressed all in black.  May I take this opportunity to say that Emmitt Smith is one snappy dresser?  When I shook his hand, I couldn't help but stare at his sparkling diamond inlaid cuff links.  I wanted them.  I could have worn them for earrings.

I pulled myself together, retrieved Mr. Smith's microphone, wound it through his zillion-dollar suit jacket and clipped it on his tie.  I stood next to him until I received the appropriate cue, then gestured for him to enter the "set" to join our host on the air.  Everything was going smoothly.  A senior VP patted me on the back.

I noticed that the merchandising representative I had befriended was talking cheerfully with the three guests who had entered just before Emmitt.  They laughed together, and she motioned for me to come over.  As I walked toward them, she was called away to handle a business issue, and I was alone with the feisty grandmother and her friends. 

I introduced myself as best I could without disrupting the show, speaking in an exaggerated whisper to be heard over the din of the filling stadium.  The man and woman shook my hand, but neither offered a name.  The older woman continued to bob up and down quietly exclaiming, seemingly to herself, "that's my boy!  That's my boy!"

I inquired of the well-dressed man as to the woman's association with Mr. Smith, to which he replied, "she's his momma."  I turned to look over my shoulder.  Emmitt waved at the woman, and she clasped her hands over her heart as if she would faint.  Tears were filling her eyes.  An epiphany hit me like an out-of-control train. 

I pressed the button that allowed me to speak to Gerry and quickly informed him that I had Emmitt Smith's mother standing by.  Gerry, who always loved to fly by the seat of his pants in the midst of a show, didn't think twice.  He conveyed the message directly to our host, who became animated and motioned for the woman to join himself and Emmitt on set.  Naturally, she was thrilled to do so.  She rushed over as quickly as her feet could carry her (which was much quicker than I thought possible) and threw her arms around Emmitt who gave her a good squeeze and proceeded to cast me a death glance over her shaking shoulders.  His look told me everything.  This was NOT his mother. 

I looked behind me at the young couple.  They were smiling and waving at the woman like proud parents.  They showed no signs of embarrassment over the announcement our host had just made, declaring this woman Emmitt Smith's mother.  I was befuddled, stricken and sure I was about to lose my job.  But, there is no professional in the world as calm under strange and confusing circumstances as Emmitt Smith.  He informed our host that this was not his mother, but that she may as well be....she was like his SECOND mother.  He said that the woman was known by the Cowboys organization as the "super fan".  She had been to every home game since before he had been a part of the team.  She showed up every summer at training camp.  She was at every parade.  She had accumulated all of the signatures on her jersey by way of persistent attendance...not by being the mother of a player.  But, Emmitt treated her like family, just the same.  He knew her by her first name, which escapes me now.

The minutes while the woman remained on camera felt like hours.  The combination of increased adrenaline and excessive heat I was suffering threatened to knock my legs out from under me, but I held on to what little composure I had left.  Tears stung the backs of my eyes.  And, then it was time for me to remove the microphone from Emmitt.  The moment startled me.  I was busy planning what I would do once I was banned from television production forever when the hulking mass of sweet-smelling, silk-clad football legend materialized before me again.

"What the hell was that?"  he demanded.

I didn't stutter which surprises me still. 

"She said she was your mother, sir," I replied. 

He looked down at me blankly for a moment, as if maybe he had heard me incorrectly, then he laughed.

"That is SO not my momma....sure as hell, she is not my momma!"  If he was angry, he was hiding it well.  He couldn't stop laughing.  When the moment finally passed, he dropped his forehead into his well-manicured hand for a moment, and shook it.  Then, he looked me in the eye, and patted my shoulder.

Then, he was gone.  I had no idea how to react.  Before I knew it, we were taking a short break, and the host was yelling at me.  I was in a daze.  It was Gerry's voice that snapped me out of my reverie.  He was giggling.

"That'll probably be the best moment of the night, kid. Next time, ask for her driver's license.  But, no harm done."  

I was still convinced of my inevitable firing until I saw the senior VP that had patted me on the back, drunk in the VIP suite hallway later in the evening.  I had just endured the crew dinner hour in Jerry Jones' massive, luxury dining hall, during which I ate literally nothing.  I was thinking of vomiting out of mortification, when she clapped me on the shoulder and slurred cheerfully, "good job tah-night, kid." 

Forgotten already. 

I slumped against the wall of the hallway, lost in the lesson that was slowly and laboriously forming in my head.  I have to relearn it now and again, but for the most part, it has stuck with me over the years and helped me to endure the oddities of a business like no other.

Whatever IT is, it is NOT the end of the world.  Emmitt Smith suffered losses in his illustrious career, but that didn't make him any less of an outstanding player.  If he had given up every time he fumbled, the NFL would be without one of its all time greatest rushers and ambassadors of the sport. 

I think about Mr. Smith and that lesson all the time.  And, hell, if you turn the whole thing over on its head, I gave one dedicated super fan the most glorious experience any Cowboys die-hard could ask be mistaken for Emmitt Smith's mother on live television, in front of millions of viewers. 

It's all about perspective, I suppose.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Jack goes alone....

*I am choosing to repost this blog today because this story so succinctly encapsulates Jack's latest journey and his fearless approach to moving forward, even when it means going alone.  There is supplemental material at the end of this post.

My grandfather-in-law is 87 years-old.  If you count only the years of lucid cognition and possible recall, he has, at minimum, 77 years worth of stories, anecdotes and ponderances to share.  And, in his twilight years, he is still happy to have a captive audience...a room full of friends and family works just fine.  His heartfelt recollections always enthrall.  I'm not sure I know a single individual who has seen or done more in his or her lifetime, so now and again, I hope to bring you a snippet from his verbal history.  His name is Jack, and that is what my husband has always called him.  It has recently been revealed that this was at Jack's own request.  He was not Grandpa, Papa or Pops.  Just Jack - as unique in his choice of patriarchal title as in his very identity.  A true blessing of a man. 

This is how Jack enlisted in the Navy, as best I can recount it.

There was only one high school in Shelby County, Alabama, and it was aptly named Shelby County High School.  It was war time, World War II to be exact, and military recruiters were common visitors to high school campuses.  At Shelby County High School, the most frequent guest was a U.S. Navy recruiter.  He stopped in fairly often to take a van full of eager future soldiers out for ice cream.  He'd buy them a cone and tell them about the pride and joy found in serving one's country.  They would listen intently and spend the ride home discussing which branch of the military they thought they might like best. 

The youngest of those boys was a fellow named Jack.  A high school graduate at just 17, Jack was enthused about signing up to serve his country.  On one of the trips to town with the Navy recruiter, Jack and his friends made a plan.  They would all meet the recruiter at City Hall a few days later to make the short trip with him to Birmingham...the city where they would have their physical check-ups, sign on the dotted line, and get their marching orders.  There was safety in numbers.  As long as they were together, there was no need to fear. 

When the day came to join the Navy recruiter at City Hall, Jack was prompt and prepared.  The recruiter shook his hand and welcomed him to the brotherhood.  Then, they waited.  They waited, and they waited, and the waited some more.  The Navy recruiter looked at his watch.  If they were going to make the trip, they would need to get going.  They were Birmingham bound, and it appeared, Jack would be the only passenger. 

Doubtless, the Navy recruiter expected Jack to turn tail and head back home.  But spry then as he is today, Jack's simple response was, "well...let's go then."

At the recruitment station in Birmingham, the boys were ordered to "fall in" alphabetically as best they could.  They were each issued a basic, hurried physical check-up, then handed their orders.  Jack had befriended the young man whose last name came just before his, so despite his abandonment back in Shelby County, he would not be headed for Corpus Christi, Texas alone.  No quicker than he could think, blink or wink, Jack was on a southbound train, en route to the Lonestar State, on the verge of the greatest adventure he had ever known.  And, he could already account for one lifelong friend.

Jack eventually found himself in the South Pacific...a member of an elite group of night fliers called the "Black Cats".  He keeps in close contact with many of his Navy buddies, though they are scattered across the United States.  Some of them have already passed on, but they are well-remembered by those who survive them.  Jack and his lovely, red-headed wife Eleanor made frequent trips to Naval reunions over the years...keeping the memories and friendships alive that were born in the midst of so much turmoil.  Jack has been lucky.  His "family" stretches from coast to coast....from sea to shining sea.     

Whether Jack's Shelby County buddies ever found their way to a recruitment center or not, I do not know.  But, I do know that Jack would not begrudge them their decisions one way or another.  When Jack arrived at City Hall that warm, late spring day he had already made up his mind to go, independent of his friends.  To use his exact words: "They weren't ready yet.  I was ready." 

May we all, at one time or another, be so self-assured and fearless in the face of a tremendous challenge as that.  Jack faces many challenges nowadays as well, but his approach is still the same:  set a course and sail it.  There are simply no two ways about it.

*Jack embarked on one of his greatest journeys this morning, when he left this world behind for good...though his memory and spirit will remain here with those of us who knew and loved him, even for a short time.  Always fearless, Jack has known for quite some time that this date was approaching.  Somewhere deep within his soul, he circled that day on his calendar and confirmed directly with God his travel plans and itinerary.  God approved, but this time, He informed Jack, that while he may be plotting a solo course, he would not be alone at his send off.  He would be surrounded by the family that loved and respected him so much.

Such was the case this morning.  Today, this world lost a husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle and hero.  Whatever your idea of Heaven may be, Jack is there - with a freshly packed pipe, a fifth of Jack Daniels and accompanied by his beloved four-legged gal pal, Katie, who went before him.  He will reunite with many of the fellows he served his country alongside, and they will undoubtedly share stories...laughing until their eyes fill with happy tears.  He'll hug his momma and daddy again.  He can cast aside that three-footed cane he never liked much.  His back won't hurt anymore.  There will be no more surgeries.  No more physical therapy.

Jack, because I know you can see, hear and feel what we here below are sending up your way, know that you touched not only my life with your kindness, wit and generosity but the lives of everyone I brought in contact with you.  My dad wants you to know you were one of his great heroes.  He has said as much to me at least a dozen times.  And, I promise - Matt and I will pick your grapefruit faithfully, even the ones on the highest branches.  Or, maybe you could toss 'em down to us.  If you're not too busy. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Sand Dancers

Since recently relocating to the beach, I have taken on some new habits.  I've scaled back my vaccuming, begun downloading classical music and changed my diet to no longer include seafood.  I also drink more.  Alcohol - not water.  The beach culture seems to demand it. 

I've also taken to running on the beach every morning, which was quite a task to start.  After two weeks of groaning every time my alarm went of at 6 a.m., sitting up and promptly resetting it for forty minutes later, I finally dragged myself from my cool, comfy t-shirt sheets and donned my running shoes.  (after brushing my teeth, of course!)  5 days in, I was hooked.

The beach looks so much different in the morning than it does at any other time of day.  The light is soft, making the grooves in the powdery sand difficult to navigate.  The hard, packed sand is littered with tiny, sparkling shells, and the birds govern the shallows, unafraid, in the absence of children building sand castles and middle-aged men and women sipping wine coolers, toes dug into the sand, lounging under colorful umbrellas.  Even when the ocean seems excited, and the waves crash loudly, heralding a pending thunder storm, the tone is serene.  It's just me, the herons, the saltwater and a couple of men in cut-off t-shirts fishing.

Except for Tuesday.  On Tuesday, there was a strange crisp quality to the air, unusual for mid-July in Florida.  The temperature might not have been cooler than the day before, but there was a starchy energy hanging in the early morning breeze, and it invigorated my steps.  I hit the sand with gusto, my eyes fixed on the northern horizon.  I ran steadily, propelled forward by brisk cello concertos performed by Yo-Yo Ma.  I was making excellent time, so I took on an extra half-mile, just for the giggle of it, turning around only when I thought my lungs might give out. 

I allowed myself a quarter-mile walk to give my heart a chance to slow and my mind a moment to wander.  Running on the beach is a bit of a conundrum.  On the one hand, I am surrounded by beauty everywhere I look.  On the other, I dare not look around too much, or I will fall in a hole left by an eager child construction worker or slip on a slimey piece of seaweed left to thwart me by the tide.  I spend more time looking at the ground than I would like which is why my walk breaks have come to mean so much.  During those quarter-miles, I spot dolphins.  I see love messages drawn in the sand by starry-eyed teenagers.  I watch pelicans plunge into the water in pursuit of breakfast, and one time, I am sure I identified a shark.  I often look up at the moon, still shining brightly as the sun's low light slowly begins to take over.  Those quarter-miles are magical, but never more so than Tuesday.

Thanks to my extra half mile, I found myself walking past a public beach access area I had only encountered a couple of times before.  A man and woman were walking through the powdery sand toward the water from the parking lot.  They appeared to be in their mid-fifties, both adorned in casual beach attire - a t-shirt and khaki shorts for him...a sun-dress for her.  They held hands and looked at each other dreamily now and again as they walked.  I slowed my pace to better observe them and to keep from running them over.  They seemed so involved with each other, they would never have seen me coming.

In my mind, I promptly named them and began composing their love story.  His name was Marshall.  He had been in a doomed relationship in his mid-twenties and had sworn off love forever thereafter.  He became a truck driver, and found his fulfillment in the many acquaintances he made on his travels, rather than in the arms of a committed mate.  Her name was Shirley.  She was a server and bartender at one of the many beach establishments close-by.  She had spent her whole life searching for the "one" until the day that Marshall stopped into her bar after dropping a truckload of beer at the tiny, beachside supermarket down the road.  It wasn't love at first sight, but they became friends and email buddies.  Marshall would stop by the bar each time he made his beer deliveries, a route he found he was beginning to request more and more frequently.  Shirley would eagerly anticipate his visits, even investing in her first eyelash curler which she had the woman at the make-up counter show her how to use. 

One hot, muggy Monday, Marshall realized that his visit to the beach would be followed by a couple of days off.  His supervisor offered him a complimentary night's stay at a beach hotel, a reward for his prompt deliveries and well-reviewed service to customers.  With a strange sort of intuitive certainty, Marshall refused.  He made his normal delivery to the tiny, beachside supermarket that day, but he did not go directly to visit Shirley.  Instead, he found a barbershop and invested in a professional shave.  He proceeded to a nearby florist where he ordered eleven pink carnations and one red rose.  He purchased a pack of gum, a bottle of red wine recommended to him by a clerk at Publix, and a can of Axe Body Spray which he used liberally, both on his body and in the cab of his truck.

At precisely 4 p.m., Marshall arrived at Shirley's bar, flowers in hand, a sheepish grin plastered across his face.  Shirley looked up from the drink she was pouring, and beamed at him, her lovely curled lashes rapidly beating back tears. 

Shirley's manager ended her shift early that day.  The details that follow belong only to the storied couple, but, perhaps needless to say, their evening's escapades never led to sleep.  They sat on Shirley's porch in the wee hours of the morning, enjoying black coffee and a gentle rainstorm that led to a cooler, dryer morning than Shirley could remember in mid-July.  They decided to walk to the beach and take in the colors of the sunrise, and the serenity of the quiet, constant ocean. 

As they walked toward the water, they saw no one....noticed nothing...and felt everything. 

As I watched, Marshall stopped at the place where the soft sand becomes damp and packed.  He turned to Shirley, took her other hand in his, and swept her into a waltz.  They danced there before me, Yo-Yo Ma providing their soundtrack, though they could hear only the music in their heads.  I suddenly felt ashamed for intruding upon their tender moment.  I turned my gaze back to the ground that lay ahead of me, and quickened my pace. 

I turned to look over my shoulder once when I had put roughly a half mile between us.  They were no longer dancing, but they stood holding each other, staring out at the water, oblivious to the world around them.

I took a moment to thank the universe for reminding me to escape once in a while.  Being constantly alert and attentive to one's surroundings may be the avenue to great successes, but it seems to me, letting it all just slip away now and again, whether in a lover's embrace or simply alone, enveloped in nature's unmatched beauty, may, in fact, be the avenue to enlightenment.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Begin, be bold, and by god, don't drop the camera....

"Begin, be bold, and venture to be wise." ~Horace

I received this quote in an email from a friend today.  She wanted to know what I thought it meant.  I happen to prize my ability to analyze cryptic, antiquated phrases of wisdom, so I took a stab at it and sent it back to her.

By my interpretation, Horace, who served in the Roman army before becoming well known for his lyric poetry, probably uttered this phrase in reference to battle.  One might reconsider the idea of running at another man, full throttle, spear in hand, shield at the ready, if one took a moment to mull it over first.  But, without soldiers who are willing to act bravely without regard for the potential consequences, advances in military strategy would never be made, and larger, stronger armies would be guaranteed the win time after time.  That is not to say that one should act with little or no consideration for consequences in every situation, and I am pretty sure that is not what Horace was saying.  The idea is more or less that when one is unsure about taking an action, the better move is not to shy away, but to move forward boldly and reap the benefits of greater wisdom, for better or for worse, on the other side. 

And by that token, I took a high definition video camera (which does not belong to me) up a ropes course. 

On my television show, we like to feature the unusual and really get a kick out of putting ourselves in awkward and some times mildly dangerous situations.  In the past, I have been a mermaid, gone swimming with manatees, helped to build a house out of a shipping crate and flown a tiny, single-engine airplane on a windy afternoon.  (The wisdom I gleaned from that experience had more to do with Dramamine than anything else...)  For this particular adventure, my co-host and I would be climbing a thirty-six foot ropes course recently erected at the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa. 

The course itself was only a little bit daunting.  Plus, we were wearing harnesses, so should a rope give way, we need only hope the harness wouldn't do the same.  We scaled the structure and proceeded to dangle high above the concrete slab below with considerable ease.  Aside from the sweat dribbling down my forehead and into my eyes, the conditions were acceptable.  Hot but dry.  Jerome's only complaint was rope burns. 

We descended and our producer presented me with a request - since I was already dressed for the occassion, wearing closed-toed shoes and perspiring profusely, would I mind being the one to take the camera back up for some close-ups? 

Consideration might have stalled me.  Boldness compelled me forward.  The course attendant wound my harness through the camera strap, and I was back on my way up the structure, clutching my mechanical ward as if my life depended on it.  And it did.  Because if I dropped it,  my life insurance policy would be required to cover the cost.  

I followed Jerome through the maze of ropes and platforms like a running back en route to score.  I dodged enthusiastic children, the camera tucked under my arm as securely as I could make it, sweating anew, not from heat but from fear.  I directed him where to step and when...where to cross and how many times...when to climb and when to stand...all the while endeavoring to adjust my harness, control the camera and not fall 36 feet to my inevitable broken collarbone or worse, broken lens.   

When my feet finally touched the ground again and I was able to relinquish my charge to Lisa, I had an epiphany.  While I was suspended in the air with the camera, I could think of nothing but the task at hand.  I was not considering what I would eat for dinner.  I was not thinking about shoes or coffee or my latest personal dramas.  I was thinking about shooting good video and not tumbling off a rope or riser.  My focus was laser-sharp, and my mind was fully committed.  I was as much a machine as the camera in my arms.

After some lengthy follow-up consideration, I have come to the conclusion that my experience exemplifies Horace's aforementioned principle.  I acted out of duty, bold in the face of possible disaster, and what I took away was a greater understanding of my own capacity to succeed under pressure.  Several past examples of this same conclusion have risen to memory since my time on the ropes concluded.  My history contains many a super-hero moment in the face of intense stress, and I am thankful to find my impulsive response to fear is valor and unilateral commitment to a task.  My greater wisdom is that of my character - and a better appreciation for what I'm made of.

Now, this conclusion is not compelling me to jump out of an airplane, swim with Great White Sharks or take off all my clothes in a public place, but it does make me feel much better about my chances against a burgular or a rabid raccoon. 

And, if my interpretation of Horace's immortal words is off base and all of this analysis turns out to be a waste of valuable brain space and energy, by golley, at least I didn't drop that camera.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The clear, blue sea, a tiny eagle, and me....

It seems, June is the perfect time of year to visit the Turks and Caicos.  Located near the islands of Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the Turks and Caicos are a British-controlled island chain nestled in the sublimely aqua hued waters of the Atlantic (not the Caribbean, as many believe).  On the whole, "TCI", as the "belongers" call it, is famous for conch.  At almost every eating establishment on the most developed island of the bunch, Providenciales, conch can be purchased in whatever preparation the diner most desires.  Fritters, ceviche...flat out name it.  If you can think of it, the kitchen can make it a reality.  And, the excess of conch preparation leaves a variety of abandoned conch homes - the beautiful white, tubular shells that litter the white, sugary beaches.  They are up for grabs, and finding a perfect one to take home as a souvenir is part of what compelled my husband and I to make a potentially fatal journey along the southern Provo coast one hot, sunny (thankfully!) afternoon.

Having been advised by a couple of fellow tourists to visit the watering hole "Horse Eye Jack's" on the opposite end of the island from our resort, Matt and I summoned a cab which transported us roughly seven miles, and charged us $30 U.S. for the one-way trip.  Appalled, we settled in for some reasonably priced, especially well-muddled mojitoes prepared by the bar manager/lone server, Glen, who informed us that he had quit over two weeks earlier, but continued to find his name on the work schedule.  And, so he continued to manage, and serve and muddle daily.  Glen also brought me a t-shirt which I purchased for my father, along with some delightful fried plantains.  Our surroundings were lovely.  There were palm trees, blue sky, a rich spearamint colored ocean, and hammocks. 

Perhaps it was the second mojito or maybe the euphoria of the panorama which compelled us to make the decision, but one way or another, we agreed that paying another $30 for a taxi was ridiculous.  Being able-bodied individuals, we saw no reason why we couldn't walk the seven mile stretch back to our resort.  After all, we had checked the map issued to us by our concierge, and the journey would simply consist of mile after mile of soft, white sand.  No problem.  We had no dinner reservations.  We had no appointments scheduled.  It just made perfect sense.  (after 2 mojitoes....)

We set out on our trek by walking down a little flight of wooden stairs at the back of the bar, and heading what I am pretty sure was West toward a little band of local children playing in the water.  They splashed and called out greetings to us as we passed.  We waved.  About 50 yards on, we encountered our first obstacle.  On the ground, there rested hundreds of potential gifts for happy travelers - it was an empty conch shell graveyard, and had come to plunder it.  However, the crime would come at a high cost, for in the air, there swarmed no less than 40 million large, angry flies.  We crouched low to try to avoid them, but near the uninhabited shells, they buzzed in greater multitude.  Matt found a shell that was a passable souvenir, and we tightened our lips and muscled through the winged mob. 

When the last fly had been left in our wake, we breathed a great sigh of relief.  All would be well from here.  We strolled onward.  We even held hands. 

But, the serenity was pierced again when our beach tapered off into a long rock jetty, quite clearly constructed by human hands out of enormous black, prickly stones.  We stood silent for a moment, looking at our obstacle and considering the possibilities.  My first thought was to turn around.  Matt mentioned the flies.  I grimaced.  Matt climbed to the top of the jetty and looked over.  On the other side, there was a lagoon, he told me, and it appeared to belong to the gigantic house which overlooked it. 

I climbed up to where Matt stood surveying the challenging terrain.  As we mulled over the idea of swimming through someone's backyard, our attention was drawn to a noise which sounded from high in the tallest tower of the enormous house.  (we later decided the house most likely belonged to Bruce Willis.)  There was a figure watching us, and apparently, also moving furniture.  We froze, as if our absence of movement would render us invisible.  (remember those 2 mojitoes?)  The figure scraped another piece of furniture across the floor.  We conceded that if we were going to be reported, it might be better to cross quickly than to continue standing, waiting for the police to arrive.  And, who knows what goes on in a TCI jail cell?  I don't.  Neither does Matt.  Thank goodness.

And, so, we swam.  Matt went first, holding my cherry print tote I had made just for the trip over his head, gliding across the water using just one arm.  The contents of the tote were as follows:  one IPhone, one relatively base model piece of junk phone which does virtually nothing and I like it that way, some cash, a credit card, a camera rendered useless by my having dropped it in the water after kayaking the day prior, the shirt I had purchased for my dad and our prized conch shell.  Had it fallen in the water, I would have lived.  But, Matt would not have - his IPhone has a name.  It is his mistress, and we call her Penelope.

Standing on the lowest tier of the second rock jetty which enclosed the small, private lagoon, we congratulated ourselves.  Flies and an unexpected swim might have dampened our clothes, but not our spirits!  We waved at the figure in the tower and shouted something about not being paparazzi and to tell Bruce we meant him no harm.  We proceeded over the second jetty and stood aghast.

There was a beach, but it was so far away, it was barely visible to the naked eye.  What stood between was a continuous jagged cliff that extended downward into roughly 3 feet of water, intermittently peppered with cement docks.  Houses, or at the very least, their backyards, stretched to the edges of the cliffs above which were labeled at various intervals with signs reading "Keep Out" or "No Trespassing".  I turned to look behind us.  We had two choices and neither was particularily appealling.  We could take on the lagoon and the flies once again only to pay $30 for the cab ride we thought we wouldn't have to take....or, we could traverse the unknown shallows below the cliffs and hope for the best.  We chose the shallows.

We moved forward carefully at first, finding that it was much easier to walk with our flip-flops in our hands rather than on our feet.  Matt held my cherry tote above the water, quite obviously petrified of losing Penelope somewhere along the journey.  We moved at a steady pace, together, chatting as if we weren't walking on reefs, in the ocean,with giant rocks above our heads.  It wasn't really all that bad until we encountered a dock too high for us to easily climb over, and too long to go around.  There was a steep drop off about ten feet out into the ocean, and Matt was not keen on our swimming through it to circumvent the structure.  I didn't know why then.  I do now.  More on that shortly. 

The only option with the dock was to try to climb over it, so we found the lowest point along the slope and made a plan.  Matt would hoist himself up on top, then help to pull me up.  Even at the lowest point, the top of the dock was at eye level for me, and there was no way my meager arm strength was going to be enough to lift me over.  We figured this was just another minor blip in our nautical passage until the tiny eagle that sat atop the nearest waterfront house began his descent. 

First, he called out, seeminly in warning.  To whom, we did not know, but the hot mid-day sun had taken its toll on our mental clarity (the mojitoes has TOTALLY worn off), and we were both pretty sure he was beckoning to his rich, eccentric owner who was going to come running out of the house dressed in overalls, weilding a shotgun and cursing at us in another language like a witch doctor.  It should also be noted that I am not sure the bird was a tiny eagle.  Again, that was all my brain could come up with in the moment - I'm sure he was a hawk or perhaps a falcon.  Or, hell, a tiny eagle.  Who knows what he was, but he was angry.  He swooped down toward Matt's head.  My poor husband was a sitting duck on top of that concrete dock, crouching down and covering his head with my cherry tote.  I too ducked, although my feet were still in the water, and I posed less of a threat to whomever the tiny eagle was protecting.  Looking back, it was probably a nest, not a looney old man. 

Still ducking, Matt reached out his arm for me to grab.  I took hold with all my might, pressing into the top of the dock with the other arm and flailing my legs to find a foot-hold along the side of the structure.  The bird swooped again, and my grip on Matt's arm slipped.  I fell toward the water, slicing my big toe open in the process, and scratching my shin into tiny ribbons of flesh.  I began bleeding profusely and loudly uttered a few choice curse words as I once again endeavored to scale the dock.  This time, I was successful, and Matt and I managed to jump off the other side without breaking our necks or ankles.    The bird took its leave, content that we were going away and no longer threatening its old wizard master.

Matt took a moment to survey the damage to my toe and shin.  The toe was submerged, so the salt water immediately began to impart its healing powers, but the shin wound was extolling multiple tiny rivulets of blood into the Atlantic.  But, no matter what, there was no turning back.  Neither of us could think of anything worse than battling the dock and the tiny eagle again, so we proceeded forward, quieter and much less optimistic.

Frustrated, I put a bit of distance between myself and my husband.  Upon arriving on the other side of the dock, I decided that I would not allow this afternoon to be a waste.  I would move as quickly as my legs would carry me, and at the very least, get a decent glute workout for my trouble.  About 50 yards ahead of Matt and three-quarters of a mile from the much longed-for beach, I made a new friend.  Stopping for a moment to catch my breath, I look over my shoulder at Matt then down at the water to find that I was being followed by something long, brownish-grey, and adorned with a familiar, menacing fin.  It swam parallel to me about five feet away, itself measuring roughly four feet nose to tail.  I took a deep breath and farmed the recesses of my brain for some stored away safety information.

What to do when one encounters a shark in the water.  Punch it in the nose.  Poke its eyes.  Get the "f%&k" out of the water.  The last of these was not an option, and I was not willing to get close enough to the beast to punch or poke it.  Instead, I started yelling to Matt and beating my flip-flops in the water. 

Still roughly 30 yards away, Matt was unsure that I had, in fact, encountered a shark.  He questioned why a shark would be interested me in the first place, to which I quite calmly replied that I had been bleeding for about twenty minutes, and sharks can smell blood from a mile away.  He remained unconvinced until the distance between us was nearly 10 yards, and he could see the signature fin himself.  He arrived at my side and invited me to put one foot in his hands so that he could toss me onto the lowest overhanging rock.  I did this, and successfully latched on to the cliff, leaving Matt alone in the water with our new adversary. 

The shark seemed uninterested in Matt.  We waited about ten minutes until it appeared the shark had made a permanent retreat, then Matt lifted me back into the water.  If I had been moving fast before, my pace somehow doubled for the remainder of the walk, the only exception being the moments when I stopped to survey the surface of the water and bang my flip-flops a couple of times, just for good measure.

When we reached the beach, we had only moments to celebrate before we were once again presented with a problem.  About half a mile up, there were two dogs chasing each other across the sand, seemingly playing.  However, given the direction the day had taken, we were unwilling to accept the scenario at face value.  Plus, we had been warned that the island was home to many a wild dog, and they were known to be vicious on occassion.  We stopped, gathered handfuls of rocks, and silently proceeded.  The mood had become somber.  I think we were both questioning all of our decisions...not just from the day, but throughout our lives in general.  It was like staring down death if death was a playful black laborador.

We were still travelling behind houses, but we no longer cared whether we were trespassing.  However, the vegetation beyond the beach was thick and brambly, so we decided that it was safer to approach the dogs than to potentially take on a snake or poisonous shrub.  The dogs never approached us, and it become clear from still a reasonable distance that they belonged to humans who were swimming next to a very familiar looking rock jetty.  The rock formation no longer frightened me.  Like a wounded solider facing down gunfire, I was less afraid, having overcome a similar obstacle already.  As compared to a shark, a sharp cement wall and an angry, tiny alert eagle, a rock jetty was nothing.  It was nothing, until we stood atop it. 

We were not standing on a makeshift fence marking a millionaire's property.  We had reached the marina, and this was the wall of a boat channel.

Having remained calm all day, even when facing down the curious shark, I felt I was due for a bit of panic.  I began repeating over and over at high volumes that I was not going to swim the channel.  No way.  No how.  No thank you.  Have a nice day.  But, I was not in charge of that decision.  Unwilling to try to cut a path through the bramble or ask nicely whether a kindly gardener would allow us to pass through someone's backyard, Matt plowed forward into the water, cherry tote above his head, and me seething, ankle deep in my greatest challenge yet.  My pulse began to quicken.  I felt sick to my stomach.  Do you know what lives in boat channels?  I do.  Sharks.  Bigger ones than what I had already encountered.  They feed off of the chum tossed overboard by fisherman arriving back home from a day on the job.  And, I am a weak swimmer at best.
I took a deep breath, cleared my head of all thoughts (except those of death by shark attack) and plunged forward.  I paddled feverishly, gasping and splashing like an injured animal, until I fainlty heard Matt's voice above the cacaphony of my own terror.  Put your feet down, he urged me.  I tried, but my knees touched bottom first.  I had made it across.

The story become much less exciting from here.  We located a road a short distance from the West side of the marina channel and walked about a mile to a little coffee shop where the kind and compassionate owner called us a cab.  (yup...after all that....)  However, we had made it half way, so our cab ride was half the price, and our driver thoroughly enjoyed our story which we stepped on each other continually to tell in exact, exhausting detail. 

After informing us that our greatest danger was actually the dogs ("if dey be wild, man, dey rip you up!") our driver, who called himself "Sir Charles", chuckled to himself and smiled at us in the rearview mirror.  He shook his head sympathetically.  When we arrived at our resort tired, hungry and in desperate need of alcohol, he took our payment, shook our hands and said only this.

"Welcome to TCI, my friends.  Welcome to TCI."